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New York City mafia boss Salvatore Maranzano in the late 1920s.

Salvatore Maranzano (July 31, 1886 - September 10, 1931) was a powerful mafia boss from Sicily, and he was one of the first La Cosa Nostra boss in the United States. He was the only official "Boss of all Bosses" of the American Mafia (Charles Luciano abolished the title after taking over his borgata).


Maranzano was born in the small Sicilian mafia bastion of Castellammare del Golfo ("Castle By The Sea"). As a youngster, he studied for priesthood, but later became associated with the Mafia in his homeland.

He entered the United States in 1925, settling in Brooklyn. While building a legitimate business as a real estate broker, he also maintained a growing bootleg liquor business. Soon he became the leader of a large cluster of mafiosi from Castellammare del Golfo, including Joseph "Bananas" Bonanno, Joe Profaci, and Stefano Magaddino. All of them had been sent to the United States by Vito Cascio Ferro, the leading Mafia boss in Sicily, with orders to organize the American Mafia and bring it under Don Vito's control. However, Don Vito was arrested and later died in a Fascist prison. Maranzano then decided to organize the American Mafia under his control.

Maranzano had a very commanding presence, with old-world mores and manners; he loved to speak in Greek and Latin and had a fascination with Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire; subjects about which he enjoyed talking to his less-educated American mafia counterparts. At home he had a large library as a makeshift shrine filled with books, statues and busts of his idol. Because of this he earned the lifelong sobriquet "Little Caesar".

Castellammarese War

His attempt to gain complete control started with the 1928 invasion of territory controlled by Giuseppe Masseria, then the most powerful gangster in New York, who in return tried to get the Castellamarese under his thumb. Maranzano hijacked truckloads of Masseria's liquor and started taking over Masseria's bars. This led to a bloody underworld battle known as the Castellammarese War. While outnumbered at the outset of the war, Maranzano and his fellow Castellamarese grew stronger as the war progressed. The war ended after one of Masseria's lieutenants, Lucky Luciano, helped orchestrate Masseria's murder in April 1931 in return for being considered an equal to Maranzano.

Boss of Bosses

Maranzano was now the most powerful gangster in New York. Two weeks after Masseria's murder, he called together several hundred Mafiosi at a banquet hall at an undisclosed location in Upstate New York. Maranzano laid out his vision of a new gangland, structured on hierarchical lines. The New York Mafia would be organized into Five Families, headed by himself, Luciano, Profaci, Vincent Mangano and Thomas Gagliano. In addition, Maranzano created a special position for himself-- Boss of All Bosses.

Maranzano also laid rules for a Mafia Commission; among other things, he outlawed random killings, and he prohibited anyone in The Commission from talking about the Mafia or its activities to anyone outside, even if the outsider was just the gangster's wife. Anyone who broke any of these rules would be punished by death. To signal his dominance to the other bosses, Maranzano called a meeting in Wappingers Falls, New York of Al Capone and other influential mafiosi nationwide to tell them that he was now the leader of New York mafia operations.


However, Maranzano's scheming, his arrogant treatment of his subordinates, and his fondness for comparing his organization to the Roman Empire (he attempted to model the organization after Caesar's military chain of command) did not sit well with Luciano and his ambitious friends, like Vito Genovese, Frank Costello and others. Luciano came to believe that Maranzano was more power-hungry than Masseria had been. Despite his advocacy for modern methods of organization, including capos overseeing crews that did the bulk of the families' work, many younger mafiosi resented him as a "Mustache Pete"--an old-school mafioso too steeped in Old World ways. For instance, he was opposed to Luciano's partnership with non-Italian gangsters such as Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel. In fact, Luciano and his colleagues had intended all along to bide their time before getting rid of Maranzano as well. Maranzano realized this soon enough, and began planning the murder of Luciano, Genovese, Costello and others. Maranzano did not act quickly enough, though: by the time he hired Mad Dog Coll to murder Luciano and Genovese, Luciano, aided by Meyer Lansky, had already found out about Maranzano's plans. Luciano arranged for Samuel "Red" Levine and three other gangsters provided by Lansky to go to Maranzano's offices on September 10, 1931, posing as police detectives. Once inside his office on the 9th floor of The Helmsley Building, they disarmed Maranzano's guards. The four men then shot and stabbed Salvatore Maranzano to death. As they fled down the stairs, they met Coll on his way upstairs for his appointment with Maranzano. They warned him that there had been a raid, and he fled too.

Following Maranzano's death, Luciano and his colleagues reorganized the Five Families and abolished the position of "capo di tutti capi." Most of Maranzano's crime family was inherited by Joseph Bonanno and became known as the Bonanno family.

Popular culture

  • Maranzano plays a small fictionalized role in Mario Puzo's The Godfather. Maranzano refused Don Vito Corleone's proposal to share his monopoly on gambling in New York City, in exchange for police and political contacts and expansion into Brooklyn and the Bronx. Maranzano arranged for two of Al Capone's gunmen to come to New York and finish Corleone. Through his contacts in Chicago, Corleone found out, and sent Luca Brasi to murder the gunmen. With Capone out of the picture, the great mob war of 1933 had begun. Desperate for peace, Maranzano agreed to a sit down in a restaurant in Brooklyn, where he was killed by Salvatore Tessio, a capo in the Corleone family. Afterwards, Corleone took over Maranzano's organization and held a meeting to reorganize the American Mafia, something that the real-life Maranzano did.
  • In the 1972 film The Valachi Papers, Maranzano is portrayed by Joseph Wiseman.
  • In the 1974 film The Godfather Part II, the young Vito Corleone mentions he knows two bookies who do not pay Don Fanucci to which Sal Tessio responds that someone other than Fanucci "collects for Maranzano".
  • In the 1981 NBC mini-series The Gangster Chronicles, Maranzano is portrayed by Joseph Mascolo.
  • In the 1990 film Mobsters, Maranzano is portrayed by Michael Gambon, but is known as 'Faranzano'.
  • In the 1999 film Lansky, Maranzano is portrayed by Ron Gilbert.
  • In the 1999 Lifetime movie Bonanno: A Godfather’s Story, Maranzano is portrayed by Edward James Olmos.
  • In the 2011 Torchwood episode "Immortal Sins", Maranzano is portrayed by Cris D'Annunzio.
  • In the fifth season of Boardwalk Empire, Maranzano is portrayed by Giampiero Judica. In the show, his assassination is depicted as being ordered by Nucky Thompson, and Nucky's brother Eli is one of the participating gunmen, finishing Maranzano off by shooting him in the head.